Oct 13 2008
We are starting a new series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. Today’s feature is brought to you by one of my favorite people, Jill Myles. Jill was my long suffering roommate at RWA in San Francisco. She is also an up and coming author with her first story to be released in January 2010. (I know, so far away). We’ll be shamelessly pimping her in a year or so. Until such time, enjoy her account of the wonderful books that Julie Garwood contributed to our romance community.
If you would like to host an “If You Like” post, please email me at Jane at dearauthor.com
If You Like-Julie Garwood
For as long as I can remember, Julie Garwood’s historical romances have been on my re-read shelf. I have a lengthy list of enjoyable authors, but no one captures my heart quite like Julie Garwood does. About once a year, I dust off my favorites and go through the entire list again, sinking into the story once more. There’s just something about a good Garwood historical romance that brings a goofy smile to my face, lightness to my heart, and all my available cash from my wallet (since I tend to lose my copies and have to buy them over and over again).
Julie Garwood writes two separate categories of novels. We have our historical romances (The Gift, The Prize, The Secret). In recent years, Julie has moved forward with romantic suspense-which I confess I do not read. This "If You Like’ segment will focus on Julie’s historical romances.
If I had to describe Garwood’s novels with one word, I’d probably use "charming’. Like a Hallmark card or those commercials with cute kids and puppies, you know what you’re being fed is probably a little sappy and corny, but it’s so well done that you don’t care. For me, Garwood’s books have always been spearheaded with a compelling heroine, charming interaction between the hero and heroine, and an overall "Feel Good’ sort of closure when you finish the novel. They’re not cotton candy fluff, but more like Peanut M&Ms. You promise yourself that you’re only going to eat one or two, and before you know it, you’re fishing the last one out of the bottom of the bag with your finger, and wondering if it would make you a glutton if you buy another bag (for the record, yes). Just like you wish the bag of M&Ms was endless (and calorie free), I always find myself wishing that there were more Julie Garwood historicals.
Heroine type: The Disney heroine
For me, the heroine in a Julie Garwood novel is always the stand-out, and the reason I follow the books. She always has the major story arc of the story, and never fails to win over the hearts of all she encounters. That being said, Garwood heroines also tend to have a Pollyanna-esque sort of mentality, or perhaps Disney heroine. They’re cute, they’re adorable, fluffy bunnies love them, they save the day, etc. Normally this would bother me, but the heroine is always somewhat flawed as well, or viewed as odd or eccentric by other characters, so it tends to balance out without being saccharine. Brianna in The Wedding is terribly absent-minded and constantly loses things. Judith in The Secret rides to Scotland to help deliver her best friend’s baby-and doesn’t tell anyone that she’s never actually attended a birth.
Usually in a Garwood, the heroine’s family is dead or evil, and so she must face her challenges alone-at least until the hero arrives. There’s a meta-theme that runs through her books of the lonely heroine who suddenly finds her one true defender. For me, this resonates particularly well.
Hero type: Strong-jawed man in a kilt
The heroes are always alpha and usually Scottish. What, you wanted more than that? Okay. The heroes of Julie Garwood novels are always the men with the power. Gabriel MacBain of Saving Grace is the ruler of a clan divided. The heroes of Ransom – Brodick and Ramsey – each head their own clans. The Garwood hero is the strong-jawed, silent, enduring sort of man that decides he wants the heroine right away, and then does everything in his power to keep her in his grasp. Usually the hero has some sort of issue or problem that is only brought to light through the antics of the heroine, and with her at his side, he’s either able to conquer the issue or see it in a different light. The hero is essentially the foil for the heroine, but what a foil (yum).
Plot: The Heroine’s Journey
The speed of the plot depends on the book itself. Garwood is fond of prologues, and the prologue usually sets up the heroine’s back-story. Usually things start moving right around page 50 of a Julie Garwood novel and the hero and heroine usually have sex towards the front of the book or no later than the middle.
Writing style: Conversational
I’m not a fan of "ornate’ story-telling, so Garwood’s simple, easy narrative is a joy to follow.
Dialogue: Snappy Banter
Garwood is a master of dialogue. The hero and the heroine always have a great interplay and argue brilliantly. Here’s an example from The Lion’s Lady:
“Are you angry because I”m not afraid of you?” she asked.
“No,” Lyon answered, giving her a lazy grin. “I”m not angry at all.”
“Oh, yes you are,” Christina said. “I can feel the anger inside you. And your strength. I think you might be just as strong as a lion.”
He shook his head. “You say the oddest things,” he remarked. He couldn”t seem to stop touching her. His thumb slowly brushed her full lower lip. Her softness fascinated him, beckoned him.
“I don”t mean to say odd things,” Christina said, frowning now. “It is very difficult to banter with you.” She turned her face away from him and whispered, “My Aunt Patricia doesn”t want me in your company, Lyon. If she realizes I”m outside with you, she”ll be most displeased.”
Lyon raised an eyebrow over that announcement. “She”s going to have to be displeased then, isn”t she?”
“She says you”re too shrewd,” Christina told him.
“And that is a fault?” Lyon asked, frowning.
“Too wealthy, too,” Christina added, nodding her head when he gave her an incredulous look.
“What”s wrong with being wealthy?” Lyon asked.
“You wouldn’’t be manageable.” Christina quoted her aunt”s opinion.
“See, you agree with my Aunt Patricia after all,” Christina returned.
Even when the characters aren’t passing witty zingers back and forth, a lot of the dialogue still has great emotional impact. Here’s a small clip from Honor’s Splendour
“Delenda est Carthago,” Madelyne whispered to herself, repeating the vow made so long ago by Cato, an elder of ancient times.
Duncan was surprised by Madelyne”s remark. He wondered how she”d ever come by such knowledge. “Aye, Madelyne. Like Carthage, your brother must be destroyed.”
“And do I belong to Loud…to Carthage as well?” Madelyne asked, refusing to speak her brother”s name.
“Nay, Madelyne, you don”t belong to Carthage.”
Madelyne nodded and then closed her eyes. She sagged against Duncan”s chest.
Duncan used his hand to push her chin up, forcing her to look at him again.
“You don’t belong to Louddon, Madelyne. From this moment on, you belong to me. Do you understand?”
Madelyne nodded her head.
Duncan released his hold on her when he saw how frightened he was making her. He watched her a moment longer and then slowly, aye, gently, pulled the cloak up over her face.
From her warm hiding place against him, Madelyne whispered, “I think I would rather belong to no man.”
Humor: Situational and Snappy
I love the humor in Garwood’s books. She enjoys putting the heroine in strange situations and having her work her way out of them. Since Garwood is also fond of the "extremely innocent’ and sheltered heroine, you can guess that a lot of the humor involves mistaken innuendo or innocent actions taken the wrong way.
Emotional Angst: Average
There’s definitely emotional angst and real problems touched upon, but you never feel beat down or emo after reading. I think this is in part because the angst-issues are equal with the humor of the story, and leaves you with a pleasant balance. There are deep issues hit upon (spousal abuse, blackmail, abusive family) but Garwood never makes the reader feel dragged through the wringer.
Conflict: Both Internally and Externally Driven
Garwood’s books tend to focus on the heroine’s journey, so most of the conflicts provided that deal with the over-arching story belong to her. In The Secret, the key driving force is Judith’s secret, and how it affects her relationships. In Honour’s Splendour, Madelyne’s brother is the villain and drives the plot, but there’s also an overall story arc of Madelyne growing from a timid woman to an independent, strong person, and the two plots are intertwined.
Setting: British Isles with the occasional foray outward
Julie Garwood is best known, I think, for her medieval romances. They are set anywhere from the Norman Conquest (The Prize) to King John’s reign (Saving Grace). Most of the medievals involve an English lady marrying a Scottish laird and moving to Scotland with him. Garwood has actually taken a lot of flack from historians who feel that her use of plaids and castles and such are not historically accurate, but Garwood also states that she prides herself on her accuracy and that these claims are false. "Plaids’ are mentioned for the Scots, but never tartans or kilts. Castles are mentioned, but without enough detail to point it to a specific time-frame so it never rang out as blatantly false for me (though others may argue).
Some of Garwood’s historicals are also set in Regency England (The Gift) and America (The Clayborne Brides: One Pink Rose / One White Rose / One Red Rose). Her most recent (Shadow Music) features a made-up country in Europe.
For those looking for a very detailed, grimly accurate picture of medieval life, keep moving. As a reader (and fangirl), I feel that the setting in a Garwood historical is there for ambiance more than a character on its own.
Heat level: Warm
Garwood’s love scenes are fairly detailed (except for penetration) and were probably steamy for the early 90’s, but would fall flat in comparison to today’s more erotic-leaning romances. There’s no wacky sex antics, and the most scandalous it gets is an outdoor love scene (The Bride).
Because of the quick dialogue and the characters driving the story, the pace of a Julie Garwood romance always feels lively to me. There’s not a lot of downtime where the heroine mopes and feels sorry for herself, and there’s not a lot of internal emotional angst that goes on for chapter after chapter, dragging the story down. You never get the feeling of breakneck speed either, so I think Garwood has a very good balance.
You Would Like-
As I thought of authors to recommend, the main thing I kept coming back to was charm. I think to get the same "warm fuzzies’ feeling that a Garwood novel gives me, we need to have a good mix of character development, a plot that draws the hero and heroine together, and mix it with a good dose of adventurous fun. The authors I’ve chosen all give me the same "warm fuzzy’ feeling and I hope they would do the same for you.
Jude Deveraux’s historical romances are my closest pick for that lovely fun charm. Her romances read much like a Hershey’s kiss. Rich and sweet and brief. Deveraux loves the situational humor in her stories, and her heroines are memorable. She wrote a variety of time periods, but definitely has several medievals to choose from. My favorite pick from her backlist is The Taming, the story of a spoiled heiress who marries the dirtiest knight in England.
Lisa Kleypas is my second pick. One of my favorite authors, Kleypas tackles Regency (and post-Regency) period England with strong heroes, charming heroines, and some great plots. Overall, there’s a great sense of humor throughout her books, and her heroines are high-spirited and headstrong without going over into TSTL-land. I’d highly recommend starting with The Devil in Winter (The Wallflowers, Book 3) or It Happened One Autumn (The Wallflowers, Book 2). Read DIW for the hero, and IHOA for the bossy (but fun) heroine.
Julia Quinn is a natural pick. How can I have a list about feel-good historical romance and not include the current favorite? Julia Quinn is a master of witty dialogue and cute, charming comedy. Her books are set in Regency England, and most feature the Bridgerton family – 8 siblings out to marry their way through society. They’re great fun, and my favorite was Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgerton Series, Book 4).
For an old-school pick, I’m going to go back to the 1980s and select Catherine Coulter’s impressive backlist. Like most historical authors in that time frame, Coulter wrote a mix of medieval and regency romances, along with the occasional Viking (yes, Viking!) tossed in. Coulter is known for her witty, comedic dialogue and is an old favorite of mine. While some of her books don’t hold up as well over time (If you see a passage about "cream to ease her way’, run!), she’s still on my re-read shelf for all eternity. Earth Song is my recommendation for her – a light, funny medieval about a kidnapped heroine built like a giant, and a poor-as-dirt hero.
You want hot Highlanders? Karen Marie Moning is your girl. While her books don’t go as far back in medieval Scotland (I think most are between 1300-1500) and she features time travel as a very large plot aspect, the sex is hot. Very hot. The men are even hotter. These books have a lot of charm and everyone I recommend them to loves them. Try Kiss of the Highlander (The Highlander Series, Book 4).
Betina Krahn writes very funny medievals with a light, frothy touch. I really enjoyed The Husband Test and the other accompanying books in the series. I believe Krahn writes a variety of time periods, but I’ve only read her medievals.
Teresa Medeiros is all over the page when it comes to historical periods (and a few paranormal!), but you have to include her books when you mention "charming’ stories that make you feel good. Her stories remind me of fairy tales (and that’s a high compliment). She’s concentrated lately on Regency England, but Charming the Prince remains one of my favorites.
I realize that I’m referencing a lot of books from the past twenty years, and most will be available at your used book store (so you can glom on a back-list in a hurry). Want something recent that came out? Here’s my recommendations.
I can’t have a list about light, fun books without mentioning Jo Beverley’s latest, A Lady’s Secret. I tell everyone that this is about a "nun on the run and a dandy’ and that usually sells the book. Jayne at DA loved it. I loved it. Go read it. Beverley also wrote several medievals in her past, but they tend to move towards darker themes and will probably not be a good match.
Sherry Thomas is a newer author but one that’s going to be on my auto-buy list for quite some time. Her most recent book, Delicious, isn’t what I’d call knee-slapping funny, but there was a sweet, wonderful fairy-tale quality to the entire story, and the ending made me weepy with joy. Definitely a feel-good book and definite warm fuzzies.
Laura Lee Guhrke is another that came onto my radar last year with And Then He Kissed Her. DA reviewed this one too. Her Victorians tend to be lighter and definitely a witty, fun read with a strong, heroine-centric story. I haven’t read a lot of her back-list, but I intend to.
So those are my suggestions. Any others?